Goodbye to Beaux Arts Manhattan

IMG_5223TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT THESE BUILDINGS next time you’re in the area around Grand Central Terminal, because some of them may not be there much longer. Big changes are coming to what’s called the Vanderbilt Corridor, the five-block stretch to the west of the station, running from 42nd to 47th Streets, between Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues.

Grand Central’s new next-door neighbor is likely to be Midtown’s tallest tower, One Vanderbilt, a glassy spire designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, that will replace the sturdy 1912 limestone building, above, designed by Grand Central’s architects, Warren & Wetmore, to complement the station’s Beaux Arts design.

Already underway — the building’s major retail tenant, the sporting goods store Modell’s, leaves this month — construction won’t start until an NYC rezoning proposal to increase the density of buildings in the corridor (and height, although there’s no limit on height now and never has been) finishes its journey through through the city’s ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process and is approved, something most observers expect to happen. The De Blasio administration is in favor, and Community Boards and preservation organizations like the Landmarks Conservancy, though dismayed by the prospect, have nothing more than an advisory role. It is almost certain that One Vanderbilt will replace the older building as well as two other venerable early 20th century buildings on the same square block.


From there, if the Vanderbilt Corridor Rezoning Proposal is in fact approved, which will likely happen around mid-year, it’s not a long hop to the redevelopment of sites that include the limestone Yale Club, above, and the Roosevelt Hotel, below, the last of the eight grande dame hotels that once surrounded Grand Central, if their owners decide that demolition and rebuilding are to their advantage, which they well might.


I learned all this and more when I reported a news story last month for Architectural Record, headlined “City Chips Away at Beaux Arts Heart of Manhattan.” It’s all there if you want to delve deeper. The photo, below, shows the base of One Vanderbilt, the building that will replace the 12-story structure at the top of this post (51 East 42nd Street, or the Vanderbilt Avenue building).


The Vanderbilt Corridor is one of those stretches of New York City we tend to take for granted. These solid structures, none of them landmarked, are the fabric of the city as we’ve known it, not the trim. They’re remnants of pre-World War II New York, so much of which has already disappeared in favor of banal or downright ugly glass towers. If they come down and are replaced by 21st century ‘supertalls,’ we’ll become more like Shanghai or Dubai. Is that what we want?

It’s certainly not what preservationists (and I’ll include myself in their number) want. Some may call it progress. I call it sad.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in ARCHITECTURE, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, MANHATTAN and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Goodbye to Beaux Arts Manhattan

  1. Elke says:

    Great article!!! DISHEARTNING sad to say.

  2. Marianne Davies says:

    What a crying shame. How can they even consider taking down such history and changing the feel of the city!! There must be an alternative. In Europe they work around the old and keep the facade. We are not Dubai. People of NY what are you thinking !! Wake up!

  3. Stephanie Reit says:

    Great article. Love the word “super talls”


  4. Cara, another great post! Thanks.

  5. claiborne ray says:

    One small point: My map shows Vanderbilt Avenue to the west of Grand Central, not to the east.

  6. Christine Schwartz Hartley says:

    Very sad indeed. Shocking to see the rendering. Great sory.

  7. cara says:

    Thanks! Fixed — Vanderbilt Avenue and Corridor are to the *west* of Grand Central. To the east is Donald Trump’s 1970s travesty, the grim black glass Grand Hyatt, once the stately Commodore Hotel.

  8. Anonymous says:


  9. Even if not officially designated as such, these are surely landmarks. Thanks for shedding some light on this story. Such a shame!

  10. Julia Mack says:

    How can the Landmarks Conservancy be dismayed about the loss of New York’s beautiful Beaux Arts buildings? It’s their job to protect what remains of this architectural style and to fight for their survival.

  11. cara says:

    As I’ve found out only recently, Julia, the Landmarks Conservancy and even the Landmarks Preservation Commission have no power when buildings have not been previously landmarked. And only a small percentage of older buildings are landmarked. They do what they can, but the forces of commercial real estate and of city politics are so much stronger.

  12. Anonymous says:

    how sad to lose those beautiful uildings

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